We are like people living in a country whose language they know so little that, with all manner of beautiful and profound things to say, they are condemned to the banalities of the conversation manual. Their brain is seething with ideas, and they can only tell you that the umbrella of the gardener's aunt is in the house.
W. Somerset Maugham
Sometimes I go to the beach and stand facing the wind, which I wish were icy, colder than we know it in these parts. I wish it would blow all the hackneyed words, all the insipid habits of language out of me so that I could come back with a cleansed mind, cleansed of the banalities of the same talk.
Today's banalities apparently gain in profundity if one states that the wisdom of the past, for all its virtues, belongs to the past. The arrogance of those who come later preens itself with the notion that the past is dead and gone. ... The modern mind can no longer think thought, only can locate it in time and space. The activity of thinking decays to the passivity of classifying.
In 1939 I wrote my first article ("Intime banaliteter" [Intimate banalities] in the journal Helhesten ) in which I expressed my love for sofa painting, and for the last twenty years I have been preoccupied with the idea of rendering homage to it. Thus I act with full responsibility and after extensive reflection. Only my current situation has enabled me to accomplish the expensive task of demonstrating that the preferred sustenance of painting is painting.
What you must realize, what you must even come to praise, is the fact that there is no right way that is going to become apparent to you once and for all. The most blinding illumination that strikes and perhaps radically changes your life will be so attenuated and obscured by doubts and dailiness that you may one day come to suspect the truth of that moment at all. The calling that seemed so clear will be lost in echoes of questionings and indecision; the church that seemed to save you will fester with egos, complacencies, banalities; the deepest love of your life will work itself like a thorn in your heart until all you can think of is plucking it out. Wisdom is accepting the truth of this. Courage is persisting with life in spite of it. And faith is finding yourself, in the deepest part of your soul, in the very heart of who you are, moved to praise it.
Nonetheless, the bigger problem has little to do with any particular product or industry, but with the way we look at risk. America takes the Hollywood approach, going to extremes to avoid the rare but dramatic risk-the chance that minutes residues of pesticide applied to our food will kill us, or that we will die in a plane crash... On the other hand, we constantly expose ourselves to the likely risks of daily life, riding bicycles (and even motorcycles) without helmets, for example. We think nothing of exceeding the speed limit, and rarely worry about the safety features of the cars we drive. The dramatic rarities, like plane crashes, don't kill us. The banalities of everyday life do.
Every time you open a book for the first time, there is something akin to safe-breaking about it. Yes, that's exactly it: the frantic reader is like a burglar who has spent hours digging a tunnel to enter the strongroom of a bank. He emerges face to face with hundreds of strongboxes, all identical, and opens them one by one. And each time a box is opened, it loses its anonymity and becomes unique: one is filled with paintings, another with a bundle of banknotes, a third with jewels or letters tied in ribbon, engravings, objects of no value at all, silverware, photos, gold sovereigns, dried flowers, files of paper, crystal glasses, or children's toys-and so on. There is something intoxicating about opening a new one, finding its contents and feeling overjoyed that in a trice one is no longer in front of a set of boxes, but in the presence of the riches and wretched banalities that make up human existence.
Henceforth the crisis of urbanism is all the more concretely a social and political one, even though today no force born of traditional politics is any longer capable of dealing with it. Medico-sociological banalities on the 'pathology of housing projects, ' the emotional isolation of people who must live in them, or the development of certain extreme reactions of rejection, chiefly among youth, simply betray the fact that modern capitalism, the bureaucratic society of consumption, is here and there beginning to shape its own setting. This society, with its new towns, is building the terrain that accurately represents it, combining the conditions most suitable for its proper functioning, while at the same time translating in space, in the clear language of organization of everyday life, its fundamental principle of alienation and constraint. It is likewise here that the new aspects of its crisis will be manifested with the greatest clarity.
When we are asleep, so it seems to me, we sleep surrounded by all the years. I have imagined, sleeping, that I heard the footsteps of the long-dead; I have held conversations with them, and with the blank-faced people I was yet to meet, conversations that seemed of unbearable poignancy, though when I woke I could remember only a few words, and those not words that possessed, waking, any emotional significance to me. It is said that this is because content is divorced from emotion in sleep, as though the sleeping mind read two books at once, one of tears and lust and laughter, the other words and phrases picked up from old newspapers, from grimy handbills blowing along the street and conversations overheard in barbershops and bars, and the banalities of radio. I think rather that we have forgotten on waking what the words have meant to us, or have not learned as yet what they will mean. But the worst thing is to wake and remember that we have been talking to the dead, having never thought to hear that voice again, having never any expectation of hearing it again before we ourselves are gone.
A refurbished Star Wars is on somewhere or everywhere. I have no intention of revisiting any galaxy. I shrivel inside each time it is mentioned. Twenty years ago, when the film was first shown, it had a freshness, also a sense of moral good and fun. Then I began to be uneasy at the influence it might be having. The first bad penny dropped in San Francisco when a sweet-faced boy of twelve told me proudly that he had seen Star Wars over a hundred times. His elegant mother nodded with approval. Looking into the boy's eyes I thought I detected little star-shells of madness beginning to form and I guessed that one day they would explode. 'I would love you to do something for me, ' I said. 'Anything! Anything!' the boy said rapturously. 'You won't like what I'm going to ask you to do, ' I said. 'Anything, sir, anything!' 'Well, ' I said, 'do you think you could promise never to see Star Wars again?' He burst into tears. His mother drew herself up to an immense height. 'What a dreadful thing to say to a child!' she barked, and dragged the poor kid away. Maybe she was right but I just hope the lad, now in his thirties, is not living in a fantasy world of secondhand, childish banalities.
It is impossible to empathise with these mono-dimensional heroes. For half the novel, their lives are nothing short of bliss, which is another way of saying that next to nothing happens. This is exemplary of the dialogue: Scott smiled curiously. "What's so funny?" "I was just wondering what your mam and dad make of us two." "How do you mean?" "I mean, ending up with an Aussie bloke and a common-as-muck Geordie for in-laws. That's seriously bad luck." Tootsie barked excitedly as Tom and Nat spluttered into laughter. Scott attempted to keep a serious face. "Mum and Dad love you both to bits. You know that." The two men stopped laughing to look incredulously at Scott. "Okay, Mum loves you both to bits, and Dad loves you... in his very own way." When Debs walked in through the door, Tom and Nat were helpless with laughter. The dog was yelping, desperate to join in the fun, and Abi sat, merrily bemused by it all. This is revolting. (The dog's name is Tootsie, for goodness' sake.) Unfortunately, as I say, it is also representative. The bottom-numbing banalities of married life, even of gay married life, are not the stuff of literature. At most they make for padding. And Ms Lewis-Foster loves her padding like I love my pudding, or as Fred Susskind loved his pad-play.
If you wear black, then kindly, irritating strangers will touch your arm consolingly and inform you that the world keeps on turning. They're right. It does. However much you beg it to stop. It turns and lets grenadine spill over the horizon, sends hard bars of gold through my window and I wake up and feel happy for three seconds and then I remember. It turns and tips people out of their beds and into their cars, their offices, an avalanche of tiny men and women tumbling through life... All trying not to think about what's waiting at the bottom. Sometimes it turns and sends us reeling into each other's arms. We cling tight, excited and laughing, strangers thrown together on a moving funhouse floor. Intoxicated by the motion we forget all the risks. And then the world turns... And somebody falls off... And oh God it's such a long way down. Numb with shock, we can only stand and watch as they fall away from us, gradually getting smaller... Receding in our memories until they're no longer visible. We gather in cemeteries, tense and silent as if for listening for the impact; the splash of a pebble dropped into a dark well, trying to measure its depth. Trying to measure how far we have to fall. No impact comes; no splash. The moment passes. The world turns and we turn away, getting on with our lives... Wrapping ourselves in comforting banalities to keep us warm against the cold. "Time's a great healer." "At least it was quick." "The world keeps turning." Oh Alec- Alec's dead.
A man who lives a part, not to others but alone, is exposed to obvious psychological dangers. In itself the practice of deception is not particularly exacting. It is a matter of experience, a professional expertise. It is a facility most of us can acquire. But while a confidence trickster, a play actor or a gambler can return from his performance to the ranks of his admirers, the secret agent enjoys no such relief. For him, deception is first a matter of self defense. He must protect himself not only from without, but from within, and against the most natural of impulses. Though he earn a fortune, his role may forbid him the purchase of a razor. Though he be erudite, it can befall him to mumble nothing but banalities. Though he be an affectionate husband and father, he must within all circumstances without himself from those with whom he should naturally confide. Aware of the overwhelming temptations which assail a man permanently isolated in his deceit, Limas resorted to the course which armed him best. Even when he was alone, he compelled himself to live with the personality he had assumed. It is said that Balzac on his deathbed inquired anxiously after the health and prosperity of characters he had created. Similarly, Limas, without relinquishing the power of invention, identified himself with what he had invented. The qualities he had exhibited to Fiedler: the restless uncertainty, the protective arrogance concealing shame were not approximations, but extensions of qualities he actually possessed. Hence, also, the slight dragging of the feet, the aspect of personal neglect, the indifference to food, and an increasing reliance on alcohol and tobacco. When alone, he remained faithful to these habits. He would even exaggerate them a little, mumbling to himself about the iniquities of his service. Only very rarely, as now, going to bed that evening, did he allow himself the dangerous luxury of admitting the great lie that he lived.
John le Carre